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Kids play at the Beech Street playground in Manchester Friday afternoon. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

John Habib's City Sports: Court project would make Sam Carey proud


SAM CAREY is smiling down upon the Manchester community.

The renovation work on the Beech Street basketball courts at Emmett-Sheridan Park is nearly complete and a ribbon-cutting ceremony has been scheduled for Thursday, July 21, at noon.

“If Sam were alive today, he’d be the happiest guy in the world right now,” said his longtime friend, Mike Stys, who organized the annual Sam Carey Basketball Classic shortly after Carey died at age 26 in a 2011 single-car accident on Interstate 93 in Campton. Carey played basketball at Manchester Central (2001-04) and Southern New Hampshire University (2004-08), ranking sixth on the Penmen’s all-time scoring list.

“After Sam died, I couldn’t imagine this dream of organizing the classics and renovating Beech Street would come true, but it has,” said Stys. “People like Luke and Matt Bonner, Brett Sellingham, Emily Sedita, Miguel Gonzalez, Bob Scribner and Shea Nealon, who contributed their time, I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to them. I mean, I couldn’t have done this by myself.”

Don Pinard, chief of Manchester Parks and Recreation, said the project to renovate the Beech Street courts involves leveling, resurfacing and lining the park. Fiberglas backboards and reinforced steel rims have already been installed, but there will be no lights. Pinard said he didn’t know the entire cost of the project.

“This isn’t funded by the city. The money for the renovation project came directly from the Rock on Foundation run by the Bonner brothers,” said Pinard. “The city is also working with the Bonners to start a summer league next year that will include uniforms and referees. They’re involved, very committed to this project and what it means for the area.”

An unknown portion of the proceeds from the first four Sam Carey Classics were donated to the Rock On Foundation for the purpose of renovating the Beech Street courts. Stys said some of the proceeds went into a trust fund for Carey’s family — his son Brayden and fiancee Kayte Kenyon.

Pinard said the project is important to the city.

“This hits home for me,” said Pinard. “This project is part of what my vision is for Manchester. We want to provide our youths and residents with more recreational parks like this one.”

SNHU men’s basketball coach Stan Spirou, who will be at the ceremony, talked about his own experience at Emmett-Sheridan.

“As a 9-year-old kid who grew up on Auburn Street, just 100 yards from those courts, I can tell you that’s where the love and passion of basketball started for me,” said Spirou. “Those courts actually kept kids like myself out of trouble at a young age. Many of us in the neighborhood grew up poor and when our parents went to work, they couldn’t afford baby-sitters. But they knew we’d be safe playing basketball, which turned out to be our sanctuary.” Spirou recalled playing basketball there from dawn to dusk.

“Morning, noon, night we’d be there playing, shooting at the chain nets,” said Spirou. “We’d play kids from other neighborhoods and the games were always competitive. If you won, you kept on playing. If you lost, you wouldn’t get back on the courts for three or four hours because we had so many teams playing there. Matt Bozek, Jim Boardman, Dickie Daigle, Brian Horan, the Vailas brothers (Nick, Jim, Alex), the list goes on and on of many great players who grew up playing on those courts.”

Spirou said renovating the courts means more young kids will get to play basketball and some will develop into great players in high school and beyond.

“You’ve got to remember that kids today have the same wants and needs as we had back in our day,” said Spirou. “This provides opportunities for kids and keeps them out of trouble.”

Spirou will join the Bonner brothers, SNHU President Paul J. LeBlanc, Manchester Central head boys’ basketball coach Dave “Doc” Wheeler and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas at the ceremony.

Stys, a 2008 graduate of Manchester Central, who spent two seasons at the University of New Haven before transferring to SNHU, where he became team co-captain, said the Rock On Foundation, a 501(c3) nonprofit organization, has made a major impact on the Carey Classic and the Beech Street courts.

“The Bonners are planning to conduct a basketball clinic after the ribbon ceremony and the public is welcome to attend,” said Stys, who also announced the fifth Sam Carey Classic is slated for Friday, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. at SNHU.

“We’re planning separate girls’ and boys’ all-star games and an alumni game that will include former New England high school basketball players,” said Stys.

jhabib@unionleader.com


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